Daily Archives: March 31, 2018

Restoring Barry’s Dad’s Pipes #6 – a Dunhill Root Briar 34 F/T Billiard


Blog by Steve Laug

I have been including some of the back story in each of the restorations of these pipes because to me the story gives colour to the pipe as I work on it. I am including it once again. Skip over it if you want to. Late in the summer of 2017 I received an email on rebornpipes blog from Barry in Portland, Oregon. He wanted to know if I would be interested in purchasing his Dad’s pipes. I have finished four of them so far, a 1939 Dunhill Patent Shell Bulldog, a Comoy’s Grand Slam Zulu, a Comoy’s London Pride Liverpool and a 1959 Dunhill Root Briar Billiard. After I finished the second pipe Barry wrote me an email that gave me a little more information on his Dad and incidentally on himself as this pipe was one of his own. Here is what he wrote me.

Steve, — Another great restoration and writing to go with it. I appreciate these pipes more watching the work it takes to get them in good condition.

Your (mine?) floral words about my father are perhaps a little deceptive. Inside that man was a lifelong Bolshevik. Who yearned for the revolution and settled for the party of Roosevelt. His parents were born in the Russian Empire (Ukraine), his father having escaped after brief detention during the 1905 failed uprising and to avoid conscription. His father was gruff, a bit crude and all politics. Given those origins he made the best of himself, had tons of friends and would have been a great social worker.

I misled you on the origin of his pipe conversion. It seems clear based on the 1939 pipe that he smoked a pipe in college, returning to them after the 1964 Surgeon General ‘s report on the danger of cigarettes. After that he only reverted to cigarettes at moments of great stress, a death, business setback or a fight with his wife.

He gave me two pipes in college – the GBD bulldog and a “Parker”. The latter I used to smoke a few times but found I was allergic to it, fortunately. The GBD was to get girls with an MGB, a Harris Tweed sport coat with leather elbow patches and jug wine. Didn’t work. Stanford women were in revolt and saw through the pretense. I put both pipes away for nearly fifty years and now they are in your good hands. — Barry

Barry and I corresponded back and forth and concluded our deal. I became the proud owner of his Dad’s pipes. The inventory of the pipes he would be sending included some real beauties – Comoy’s, Parkers, Dunhills and some no name brands. They were beautiful and I could not wait to see them. I had him send them to Jeff where he would clean them up before I received them. Jeff took some photos of the lot as he opened the box. Each pipe was individually wrapped with bubble wrap and taped to protect them. There were 25 bubble wrapped packages and a lot of pipe accessories included – pipe racks, reamers, scrapers and Comoy’s filters and washers. There were pipe pouches and a wooden cigar box that held all of the accessories and reamers. There was a boxed KleenReem pipe reamer that was virtually unused. Jeff unwrapped the pipes and took pictures of the estate showing both the pipes and the accessories. Barry had labeled each pipe with a sticky note. It was an amazing addition to my pipe and tool collection. The next pipe I chose to work on from the collection was the Dunhill Root Briar billiard that is the third pipe down in the photo above. It was in decent condition with dents and wear of the years on briar but the stem was un-oxidized. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank with the shape number 34 followed by F/T which is the style of stem (fish tail). I looked up the shape number on a previous blog on rebornpipes (https://rebornpipes.com/2012/11/01/dunhill-pipe-shapes-collated-by-eric-w-boehm/). The shape number 34 is a Billiard. Next to that it reads Dunhill over Root Briar. On the right side of the shank it reads Made in over England with a superscript 9 and a c. Next to that is the familiar 2 in a circle for the size of the pipe followed by a capital R for the Root Briar finish.

This petite billiard was interesting to me in that it was a unique little Root Briar with a mystery stamping next to the Made in England stamp. The superscript underlined 9 gives a potential date of 1959 but the mystery to me is the superscript underlined c next to that. I had not seen that before on any of the Dunhill pipes that I have worked on. The finish was dirty but in decent condition and the stamping was very readable. The bowl was caked and had an overflow of lava on the rim top as well as some darkening. The outer edges of the rim had some rough spots from knocking the pipe against something hard. There was a burn mark on the front right side of the bowl and the rim top. Even through the grime and grit the amazing birdseye on the sides and cross grain on the front and back of the bowl. The stem was in excellent condition with no oxidation and some tooth chatter both sides of the stem at the button. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he cleaned it up. As usual the photos tell the story better than my words can. Jeff took some close up photos of the bowl and rim top to show the cake and the overall condition of the bow and rim top. Both the outer edges and inner edges of the rim show damage. The top of the rim had some lava build up and had scratches and nicks in the surface. He also took a photo of the underside of the bowl to show the grain and the small dents. It is a really nice piece of briar and should clean up well. The stem was made of hard rubber and was barely oxidized as mentioned above and had tooth chatter on both sides near the button. Jeff took photos of both sides of the stem to capture their condition before he cleaned the pipe. The small white spot on the top of the stem was in good condition and slightly indented. Jeff once again did his usual great job on cleaning this pipe, leaving it pristine and without damage to the finish. He reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned up the remnants with the Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl, rim and shank with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the grime of the smooth finish on the bowl and shank. He was able to remove the tars and oil on the rim but the darkening and damage to the surfaced would need to be addressed. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. Once the dust and debris were removed the finish looked very good. He soaked the stem in Before & After Pipe Stem Deoxidizer to remove the light oxidation, rinsed it with warm water and dried it off. I took photos of the pipe to show its condition before I started my work on it.   I took some close up photos of the bowl, rim top and damaged areas around the outer edge of the bowl. The front outer edge has a burn mark. The bowl was very clean and the rim top had some nicks on both the inner and outer, some scorching and general darkening. Jeff had been able to remove the lava from the finish. The inner edge had some damage and nicks and the roughness of the rim top and outer edge was visible. The stem was barely oxidized as can be seen in the photos and has tooth chatter near the button on both sides.Before I did and restoration work on the bowl or stem I decided to pin down the date a bit more. I knew that the pipe was made after the patent era pipes as there was no patent number on the shank but I wanted to narrow that down more. One of the beauties of Dunhill pipes is that the stamping can give you a precise date of manufacture. In this case I wanted to work on the stamping Dunhill Root Briar on the left side of the shank and the Made in England9 c  on the right side of the shank. I looked up the brand on the Pipephil website as he has very helpful photos and information in dating and interpreting the stamping on Dunhill pipes. On one of the supplemental pages associated with Dunhill pipes he has a page on the Patent era pipes. I find that this page is particularly helpful when I am trying to properly identify a pipe. Here is the link to the page: http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/dunhill/root-briar1.html.

The stamping on this one is similar to the one I am working on. Though the one I have in hand is not a DR A.  The one I have is stamped 34 F/T. The Made in England marking on the pipe in the photo on the right side of the shank is similar as well. The 9 on mine is more of a superscript than this one but the underscore is the same. There is also a 1969 version that is similar but it does not have the underscore on the 9. So the pipe I have is either a 1959 or a 1969 Root Briar. What is also unique on the one I have is the superscript underlined c next to the 9. I cannot find any information on what that means.Jeff photographed the stamping on the right side the shank to show what it read and the condition of the stamping. You can see the underscored superscript 9 matches the one above. The formula is simple – the base number is either1950 or 1960 and you add the underscored superscript 9 to that number. It is either 1969 or 1959. The parallels to the photo above leads me to think it is probably a 1959 pipe. Any help on this would be greatly appreciated.To remove the damage on the rim I decided to top the bowl. I used 220 grit sandpaper on a topping board to remove the damage. I worked on it until the top was smooth and the damage on the outer edge of the bowl was minimized. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the damages along the outer rim. I used it to also work on the inner edge of the bowl. I gave the inner edge a slight bevel like it original had before I started.  I polished the rim with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit micromesh sanding pads. I wiped it down after each pad to check on the progress. I used a maple stain pen to touch up the rim top to match the colour on the rest of the bowl. With the touch ups the rim matches the rest of the bowl colour.I worked Before & After Restoration Balm deep into the briar on the smooth finish to clean, enliven and protect it. I wiped it off with a soft cloth. I buffed the bowl with a cotton cloth to polish it. It really began to have a deep shine in the briar. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. The grain on the bowl is really beginning to stand out and will only do so more as the pipe is waxed. I started working on the stem next. I sanded out the tooth chatter next to the button on both sides with 220 grit sandpaper. I wiped the stem surface clean with a damp cloth. I sanded it with 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper to blend the scratches left behind by the sandpaper and blended the scratches into the surface of the vulcanite.  I polished stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish, both Fine and Extra Fine. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. This small Dunhill Root Briar is a real beauty with straight grain on the back and front and beautiful birdseye on both sides of the bowl and shank. The grain really is quite stunning. The rim top looks much better. The Dunhill vulcanite stem is high quality and shined up well. I buffed the bowl and the stem with Blue Diamond polish to raise the shine on the briar and the vulcanite. I was careful to not buff the stamping and damage it. I gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The rich brown stain allows the grain to really stand out on this little pipe and it works well with the rich black of the vulcanite stem. The dimensions of the pipe are: Length: 5 inches, Height: 1 1/2 inches, Outside Diameter: 1 1/8 inches, Diameter of the chamber: 5/8 inches. This little Dunhill will fit really nicely into the collection of a friend of mine, Henry who has been looking for a pipe this size. I will sending it to him soon and I know that he is looking forward to enjoying his first bowl in it. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me.

There is something about Custombilt Bulldogs that attracts me


Blog by Steve Laug

I needed a short break from the repairs that I have been doing a lot of lately so I chose to work on a nice Custombilt Bulldog that Jeff had sent me. It was a well-shaped ¼ bent Bulldog with worm trail rustication with a slight variation. Each of the worm trails and all around them was marked with a further rustication over the top – horizontal lines that ran all across them and around the bowl. They continued about half way up the shank on the top of the diamond shank. On the underside there was less rustication. The lower left side is stamped Custombilt over Imported Briar. There were two rings going around the bowl separating the rim cap from the rest of the bowl. One ring was slightly larger than the other. There were some small chips and nicks in the rim cap and between the rings. They were not too bad so they would not need a lot of work. The bowl had thick cake and a slight overflow of lava on the back side of the rim. There was some darkening to the rim. The rusticated finish was dirty and had grit and dirt in the grooves. The vulcanite stem was oxidized and there was tooth chatter on both sides near the button. There were no deep tooth marks in the stem itself. Jeff took some photos before he started working on his normal cleanup of the pipe. Jeff took a close up photo of the bowl and rim to show the condition of the pipe before he started to work his magic on it. The bowl had a thick dark cake and some overflow on the rim top. The rim edges were in decent condition with light dents in the surface. You can see some of the chipping to the edge of the cape over the twin rings around the bowl. Jeff took photos of the sides and bottom of the bowl from different angles and you can see the overall condition of the finish on the pipe. The next photo shows the chips in the edges of the cap. The middle ring was intact in this photo.He took a photo of the underside of the shank to show the stamping. The stamping is readable and is the standard Custombilt over Imported Briar stamp. The style of script in the stamp should help date and identify the time period the pipe was made.The next photos show that the stem was quite heavily oxidized and pitted. There was some light tooth chatter on both surfaces of the stem near the button and on the button edges itself.  I wanted to identify the stamping on the pipe so I started going through various sites I have used before. I looked on both the Pipephil website and the Pipedia website. The Pipephil site gave the following information: Tracy Mincer stopped making Custom-Bilt pipes in the early 1950s. The trademark was successively bought by Leonard Rodgers (1953), Consolidated Cigars (1968) and Wally Frank Co. (early 1970s). The later began to produce again his version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975 at Weber pipe factory (NJ). In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently (2010), the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain which is part of Altadis. It is generally admitted (but not proved) pipes stamped “Custom – Bilt” (with the hyphen) are from the Mincer era. The name might have changed from Custom-Bilt to Custombilt (without the hyphen) in 1946. http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-c8.html

I did some more research on the brand in the article on Pipedia. As I read through the material there I came across this photo that is pretty close to the stamping on the pipe I am working on. The note under the stamping photos identifies the stamping as one that was on pipes from the Wally Frank era.

https://pipedia.org/images/6/64/Custombilt_Stamp3.jpg

I read further in the Pipedia article to help confirm this. In the early 1950’s, Tracy Mincer developed severe financial problems that caused him to stop making the Custombilt, and he lost the name. In 1953, Leonard Rodgers bought the company and emphasized tobacco pouches and butane lighters. (However, it appears Mincer was working on his new pipe, the Doodler.) In 1968, Rodgers sold the Company to Consolidated Cigars. In the early 1970s, Wally Frank Co. bought the Custombilt trademark and began to produce their version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975. Hollco Rohr owned the Weber pipe factory, located in New Jersey, and produced the Custombilt pipes there. In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently, the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain. https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt

From all of that I can say with fair certainty that the pipe came out in the 1970s and was made by the Wally Frank Company.

Jeff reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and followed up with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the cake. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl, rim, shank and stem with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the oils and tars on the bowl, rim and shank. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. Once more he soaked the stem in Before & After Stem Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation. The pipe came out looking really good. The grooves and carving on the briar looked clean and the stem oxidation was virtually gone. I took photos of the pipe to show its condition before I started my work on it. I took a photo of the rim top to show the condition it was in after the cleanup. Jeff was able to remove the darkening and tars from the rim top and edges. The grain on the top is very nice and the top is clean. There were dents in the surface of the rim but the edges of the rim itself looked very good. It is a nice looking finish. The stem was clean and you can see that the deoxidizer had done a great job removing the oxidation. The tooth chatter, though present was not as visible on the stem and button.I took a photos of the chips out of the cap on the front and middle left. While they are visible I will leave them as part of the story of the journey of this old pipe.I started my restoration with the bowl. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out some of the nicks in the inner edge of the bowl. It was not out of round so it did not take too much work to remove the damage to the edge.The rest of the pipe was in such good condition from the cleanup that I did not have to do any sanding on the rim top or bowl. I began by rubbing the bowl down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the rusticated briar and the smooth rim. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I hand rubbed it with my fingers and worked it into the rustication with cotton swabs. I wiped it off with a soft cloth. I buffed the bowl with a horsehair shoe brush to polish it. The briar really began to have a rich shine. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. I sanded the repair smooth with 220 grit sandpaper followed by 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper to remove the pitting and light oxidation that remained in the curves of the saddle and the edges of the button. (I apologize for the lighting on the 2 sanding photos as they are a bit dark. The stem actually looks far better than my photos at this point.)I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each pad with Obsidian Oil. I used the Before & After Pipe Polish to remove the small minute scratches left in the vulcanite. I finished by wiping the stem down with a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry.    I put the stem back on the pipe and worked it over with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches. I gave the bowl several more coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem several coats of carnauba wax and buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. This chunky Custombilt Bulldog has been brought back to life. It is my kind of pipe but it is one that I will likely sell on the store. If you are interested let me know as I will be posting it soon. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 1/4 inches, Height: 1 1/2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 inches. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this Custombilt.